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School Snapshot: Fewer New West middle-grade students are "thriving." Here's why.

Stronger adult relationships, nutrition and sleep are key areas of need to improve student well-being, according to a New Westminster school district study
Middle year sleep GettyImages-900636726
Sleep is one of the challenges affecting student well-being in the middle grades in New Westminster, according to a report to school board Feb. 9.

The well-being of middle-grade students in New Westminster is on a downward slide, and the school district wants to turn that trend around.

Student well-being was one of many aspects of learning in the district covered during a presentation to trustees at the Feb. 9 education committee meeting.

Maureen McRae-Stanger, the district’s director of instruction, learning and innovation, presented information about the Middle Years Development Instrument, a survey done each year with Grade 4 and 7 students. Students are asked a series of questions on the themes of optimism, self-esteem, happiness, absence of sadness, and general health.

Results are tabulated to show whether students are “thriving” or whether their well-being is “low” or “medium.”

“Students who are thriving with well-being are going to be able to do better in their intellectual capabilities and their career pathways, so we know these pieces are important,” McRae-Stanger said.

McRae-Stanger noted the overall trends in New Westminster are fairly aligned with the province. In both cases, she noted there’s been a downward trend over the past three years in the number of students who are “thriving.”

Among Grade 4 students in New West, 37% ranked as “thriving” in 2019/20, down from 40% in 2017/18. That compares to 38% and 42% respectively for the province. At the Grade 7 level, 31% of New West students are “thriving,” compared to 34% in 2017/18. For the province as a whole, those numbers are 31% and 38% respectively.


McRae-Stanger noted the study also helps to pinpoint ways the school district can help students thrive. It tallies up an “assets index” that includes adult relationships, peer relationships, nutrition and sleep, and participation in organized activities outside of school.

“These are the things we really want to focus on if we want to make any difference in well-being,” she pointed out.

On the assets index, McRae-Stanger said the New Westminster results often reflect what’s happening at the provincial level, but she pointed out a couple of key areas of concern.

“Adult relationships and nutrition and sleep have been the biggies for us, and also for the province, for the past three years,” she said.

In 2019/20, 76% of Grade 4 students and 70% of Grade 7 students reported having an adult in their life who believes they will be a success – down from 81% and 73%, respectively, in 2017/18, and lower than this year’s B.C. numbers.

“Students are feeling less connected, or have fewer adults they feel connected to, at home, at school or in the community,” McRae-Stanger said. “Those are areas for us to pay attention to and try to figure out ways we can actually connect more fully with our students in schools.”


Another area where results are on the downhill slide is nutrition and sleep. Among Grade 4 students, only 62% reported adequate nutrition and sleep, down from 69% in 2017/18. In Grade 7, that number stands at 62%, a slight drop from 63% in 2017/18.

B.C. numbers are similar, at 63% among Grade 4 students and 58% among Grade 7 students.

“Physical well-being is also really important for success in other areas of life,” McRae-Stanger pointed out.

She noted that makes programs like the district’s FuelUp hot lunch program all the more important, and she said the district needs to find ways to work with parents to help improve students’ sleep.

McRae-Stanger told trustees the survey results go back to school principals so they can share them with staff and build plans around areas that need improvement. The district also has a social-emotional and mental health working group that is working on plans to address student well-being.

Trustee Mark Gifford pointed out one of the factors that influences the well-being of students is the well-being of staff, and he asked what the district is doing on that front.

McRae-Stanger said supports for staff are part of the mandate of the social-emotional working group, and the district has provided more social-emotional support for staff this year, including Pro-D Day sessions and other resources. The district is also working to support parents, she said, noting a recent Parents’ Night Out event on building emotional resilience.

“We definitely recognize that staff and parent well-being absolutely impacts the well-being of our children, and we have to be focusing on that,” she said.

This story is one part of a special School Snapshot report.

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